Iowa softball’s Sarah Lehman impresses in return to mound

After two injury-riddled seasons, senior Sarah Lehman has emerged as the Hawkeyes’ ace in 2020-21.


David Harmantas

Iowa pitcher Sarah Lehman winds up to pitch during a softball game against Western Illinois on Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2019. The Fighting Leathernecks defeated the Hawkeyes 10-1.

Isaac Goffin, Assistant Sports Editor

After COVID-19 and an injury limited her on-field action in 2019-20, Iowa softball senior Sarah Lehman has taken advantage of the opportunities she’s received throughout the early portion of the 2020-21 season.

The Iowa City native has hurled her way to 46 strikeouts and a 1.22 ERA in 46 innings pitched in 2020-21.

And Lehman’s been credited with a win on the mound in five of the Hawkeyes’ 10 victories.

Last year, Lehman threw just one-third of an inning, and in 2018-19, she pitched 70 frames and amassed a 5.20 ERA with an arm injury.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and just really know my body now,” Lehman said. “When something’s starting to hurt, I let somebody know and just be preventative of it.”

So far, the Hawkeyes have played three series in 2021, and Lehman has served as Iowa’s ace pitcher in each tilt.

Her best performances of the young season came against Penn State March 11-12. In her first game against the Nittany Lions — a 5-1 Hawkeye victory — she accumulated five strikeouts, gave up two hits, and allowed just one baserunner to cross home plate.

The next day, she gave up four hits, but no runners touched home base. In eight innings of work, Lehman struck out five batters, leading the Hawkeyes to a 2-0 win.

“Just going at batters, trying to get first strike really helps,” Lehman said.

Lehman, a business major, is strategic about each pitch she throws. Rather than relying on one or two pitches consistently, Lehman throws the pitches that she feels are working best for her on a game-by-game basis.

RELATED: Iowa softball takes three out of four at Purdue

Despite her success on the diamond, Lehman’s first college sport was not softball.

A three-sport athlete out of Regina High School, Lehman initially attended Coe College to play volleyball.

Eventually, Lehman realized that she missed playing softball — the sport that, in her mind, she believed she was best at.

So, Lehman transferred to the University of Iowa and walked on to Gillispie’s team.

Switching schools and changing sports, however, wasn’t a completely smooth transition for Lehman.

“She struggled that first year just trying to find how to pitch again,” Gillispie said. “I think it was neat to see her really working hard at it.”

When she arrived at Iowa, Lehman pitched at about 58 to 59 miles per hour. Since then, she’s pumped her velocity up to 65 miles per hour.

Lehman has even developed a reliable changeup — a pitch she struggled with in the past.

After this season, Lehman will still retain two years of eligibility, though she has yet to decide if she will use it.

For now, Lehman is focused on getting the Hawkeyes to their first NCAA Regional since 2009 — a goal she can help the Hawkeyes accomplish very directly, as she has already tossed six complete games this season.

“It’s awesome to be able to finish a game,” Lehman said. “And then definitely having my defense behind me because I know sometimes you get tired, or you struggle a little bit but having that and our bats behind me is really awesome.”